Did you know that after fresh fruits and vegetables have been picked they start to decay? This means the longer food needs to travel to get to your kitchen the more precious nutrients are lost.
The term is called respiration. After the fruit or vegetable has been picked it continues to breath and break down. It is during this process that nutrients begin to be lost.
When the produce is picked is just as important as the produce itself. There have been studies that confirmed a tomato that is picked at its ripest has more vitamin C than if it is picked before it is ripe.
Did you know that tomatoes sold in stores have been picked before they are ripe? It is because they need to be transported many miles to get to their destination.
Ripe tomatoes are far more perishable than green ones. They are then exposed to ethylene gas which is how they are ripened. Ever notice that store bought tomatoes don’t taste as good as the ones you grow in the summer? This is why.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great way to support your local growers and have access to fresh local produce. Depending on where you live, there may be local farms that offer CSA boxes. When you sign up, your box can either be delivered to your house or you can pick it up at a designated pick-up location. There are many options on frequency and content of your boxes allowing you to fit your needs and budget. Check out if there is a CSA in your area by going to localharvest.org and searching your zip code.
Another option is to start a garden of your own. Spring has arrived and many garden stores have plants you can buy to get started. You don’t have to be an expert gardener to begin. Start small with herbs. These can be started indoors if you have a sunny window. Once you have the gardening bug, you can expand your efforts outside.
A couple of years ago I got a raised garden bed installed and I started small with herbs on one side and cucumbers on the other. I wanted to learn more so I reached out to some neighbors and we started a neighborhood garden club.
Joining a garden club can help you learn and gain inspiration to grow more. Now, my garden bed today has herbs but also many veggies. There is cauliflower, broccoli, celery, green onions, and bush beans. I have run out of room and now I’m considering getting another garden bed!
Try buying locally to ensure you get the freshest and nutrient dense produce as possible. Doing so will not only help your neighbors but it also ensures you consume fresher more nutrient dense produce.
Not sure how to begin to eat produce that hasn’t traveled far?
- Ask the produce guy in your store where the food is from if it’s not labeled.
- Shop at local farmers markets.
- Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to purchase boxes from local farmers who participate.
- Start a garden of your own.
Another added benefit of buying local is that it decreases the amount of handling the food goes through before you get it to your kitchen. More than likely the food has been picked by hand and not a machine. Hand-picked can reduce the chance of contamination and further increased rates of decay.
Now that you have your yummy produce home you need to store it correctly, so it doesn’t spoil before you get a chance to eat it. Before storing them remove any ties and rubber bands that may be on them and take them out of any packaging they were sold in.
Trim any dead leaves, leaving about 1 inch attached so it doesn’t start to dry out. When storing allow enough air circulation between the foods and don’t store fruits and vegetables together. Where you store it is just as important to where you bought it.
Did you know that not all produce should be stored in the refrigerator? Many foods start to decay faster in cold temperatures.
Here is a list of produce that should be stored in a cool dry place, like your counter tops or pantry:
- Winter Squash
- Sweet Potatoes
- Whole melons
Most other vegetables can be stored in the refrigerator. Here are some important tips for storing successfully:
- Apples: stay crisper longer in the refrigerator. Place in a plastic bag because they release gas which can spoil other fresh produce.
- Asparagus: wash and stand up in a jar of water wrapped with a damp paper towel.
- Carrots: remove the green tops and peel when ready to use.
- If storing in plastic bags, pop holes in the bag to allow for moisture to release.
- Berries: wash when ready to eat.
- Lettuce: wash and dry well prior to refrigerating. Store in a clean bag or Tupperware with a few paper towels to absorb the moisture.
- Cut melon
- Scallions: wash and stand up in a jar of water with a plastic bag over the top.
- Cauliflower: store in a plastic bag.
- Root veggies including ginger: stored in the vegetable drawer next to leafy greens, cabbages, and broccoli.
- Celery: stored in a plastic bag whole or cut up placed in a container covered with water.
Some foods should be ripened at room temperature and then stored in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life. Here are a few that ripen on the counter and then put in the refrigerator: Pears, Lemons, Limes, Mangoes, and Avocados. Want to speed the ripening stage? Place the fruit in a paper bag on the counter, check each day until they are ripened.
Some foods are not well suited to be stored together. A good example is onions and potatoes. Don’t store them together as onions give off gases that can make other foods around them decay faster. Don’t store your fruits and vegetables together. The fruit gives off high levels of gases which can ripen and spoil vegetables if stored together.
I leave as much produce as possible out on my counters. I have discovered I’m more inspired to add more vegetables to my meals and choose more fruits for snacks when I can see them. Place cut up veggies in clear glass containers lined up in the refrigerator. Having precut vegetables makes it easier to add more veggies to your meal.
Eating seasonally is also a great way to get the most nutrient dense foods. See what’s in season for your region and try eating those. Now a days we have access to all food year round in the grocery store but it does not mean those are seasonally for where you live. They may have traveled a long way to get to your store.
The best scenario is when you can go outside to your garden and pick what you are going to eat that day. It may not be realistic for everyone so look for ways to start small. Review your current produce buying habits and pick one area to try a change.